“Purgatory is kind of like the in-between one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t great either. Like Tottenham.”
That’s what Colin Ferrell’s character, a likeable child killer, tells Brendan Gleeson’s character, another likeable killer, as the two hitmen contemplate death in one of the funniest movies of 2008, “In Bruges.” After watching the scene, all football fans think to themselves, “THAT’S SO TRUE! Tottenham is stuck in purgatory!”
Since the Premier League’s inception, Spurs have finished between 8th and 12th place 11 times in 17 seasons and they’ve never finished higher than 5th and lower than 15th. They’re always a candidate to go to heaven — errr, I mean qualify for the Champions League — but they always fall short.
Will this season be different?
To say Tottenham has been impressive in its first two matches this season is a gross understatement. In the opener against last year’s runner-up, Spurs beat Liverpool 2-1 but better finishing (mostly from Robbie Keane) and Tottenham could have won by three or four goals. Most encouraging about the win was how Tottenham’s two central midfielders, Wilson Palacios and Todd Huddlestone, controlled the match as Liverpool’s midfield struggled to find a rhythm.
Tottenham went from facing a title contender to a relegation survivor in its second league match Wednesday. Hull City isn’t very good, but it’s hard winning on the road in the Premier League (ask Manchester United). So beating Hull 5-1, a club which was seconds away from getting a point at Stamford Bridge four days earlier, is a good result.
It’s a nice start to the season, but can the team that seems destined to spend eternity in Premier League purgatory keep it up? It’s possible, here’s why:
ı. Schedule — Unlike the last couple seasons, Tottenham doesn’t have to juggle a European schedule to go along with it Premiership responsibilities. Playing less matches doesn’t just keep your players fresh, but it also lowers the chances of injuries and if Tottenham wants to challenge the top four it MUST stay healthy.
2. Home form — Nov. 30, 2008. That was the last time Tottenham lost a match at White Hart Lane (1-0 Everton). Good teams don’t lose at home and counting cup matches its now been 16 matches since Tottenham dropped a match in front of its supporters. Tottenham’s form in general has been solid; since Feb. 8, 2009, Spurs are 10-3-3.
3. Talent — Tottenham has spent a lot of money in the last couple seasons and its paid off. Up front, with Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko, Spurs have as much depth as anyone and, if Defoe keeps playing like he is, Tottenham might have as much quality as anyone too. Spurs have two of the most exciting and talented outside midfielders in Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric and two tough central midfielders in Huddleston and Palacios. In goal, Gomes has steadily improved since the start of last season and Cudicini is an experienced backup. Defense is the glaring weakness, with only Vedran Corluka and a healthy Ledley King being “top four” quality. Tottenham does have some depth, but the drop off from the starters to the bench is significant (the difference from Palacios and Jamie O’Hara is huge).
In the end, no, I don’t think Tottenham will finish in the top four. The holes defensively is a problem, but the other problem is Harry Redknapp. He’s a good manager, with a great eye for talent, but when it comes to tactics he’s average. He has Giovani dos Santos on his roster — as U.S. fans know, one of the most talented under-21 players in the world — and Redknapp can’t figure out a way to use him.
Also, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and even Manchester City have better players. They’re not way better, but they’re slightly better. It is possible some of Tottenham’s players will overachieve (look out for Modric this season) and some players on top four squads will underachieve — giving Tottenham a chance to finish fourth — but it’s unlikely.
That said, we’ll find out if Tottenham is for real in the not too distant future. After playing at West Ham Sunday and hosting Birmingham on Aug. 29, Spurs play visiting Manchester Untited on Sept. 12 and are at Chelsea Sept. 20. If Tottenham is still in first place in a month, Spurs fans can look foward to a season in the top four.